What is this about
A tablet is a device that any student with dyslexia should have. In fact, most students as well as adults can benefit from a tablet for learning and work regardless of any special educational needs. Last week, we had a look at some cheap tablets to consider buying for Christmas.
However, price is not your only choice when buying a tablet. You also have to choose from one of two (or possibly three) platforms:
- iPads (running the iOS operating system from Apple)
- Android Tablets (running the Android operating system from Google)
And it looks like soon, we will also have to start talking seriously about Windows 10 tablets as an option.
When we talk about assistive apps we often have to say whether they are available on iPad or Android. In this post, we will have a look at the differences to consider when making the decision between the two platforms.
iPads and Android tablets are very similar in what they can do. If price is your main consideration, you can safely buy one of the cheap Android tablets recommended in the previous post without fear of missing out on something crucial. Each platform has its strengths and weaknesses but with one exception none is a complete deal breaker.
Also, both platforms are constantly improving
Android tablet strengths
- Price: Android tablets are significantly cheaper (the cheapest usable Android tablet is 4 times cheaper than the cheapest iPad). Android also has more free apps and cheaper paid apps.
- Choice: You can choose from any number of form factors (including 7, 8, 9, 10, 12 inch tablets)
- Flexibility: You can customise the way the system looks, download custom apps, or even install the Android operating system on your PC.
- Music production: Because of the way the iOS is designed, it is the only sensible choice for serious music production.
- Accessibility: Here iOS (both iPhone and iPad) have a slight edge over Android. But not in a way that would exclude Android from consideration.
- Apps: It is no longer true that iPad has significantly more apps than Android. But apps are often released first on iPads and there are slightly more iPad-only than Android-only apps.
- Accessories: Because there are only three possible form factors for iPad, manufacturers can make more accessories. There is no shortage of cases, or styluses for Android tablets but some specialised accessories like external microphones or charging speaker docks are more likely to be available for iPads only.
Some other features that are often claimed to be different are mostly the same:
- Ease of use: I tend have to explain how to do things to iPad users as much as Android users. They each have areas that are easy and those that are less easy. But both are very easy to use.
- Security: Because Android is more flexible, it lets you do things to make it less secure. But you really have to try – not something you can do by clicking something by accident. For normal users, both systems are equally safe to use if you stick to the official app stores.
Let’s now have a closer look at the key areas of difference.
Both Android and iOS have key accessibility features. You can:
- Make text bigger
- Have text read out to you with text to speech
- Dictate text using text to speech
Because of the way it is implemented, iPads (or iPhones) are preferred by many blind users but Android can also be used by people without sight.
There is only one feature which gives it an edge for dyslexic readers. While Android has very good text-to-speech, you need apps to benefit from it. Apple has implemented a universal text-to-speech button. We will have a look at it closer in a future post. You can get very similar effects on Android but the implementation is clearly superior on iOS.
It was good enough to cause one of my colleagues to switch from Android to iOS. But you will have to judge whether it is worth the extra cost.
Ease of use
Apple products have the reputation of being easy to use. As someone who helps a lot of people use technology, I tend to have to help iPad (or Mac) users as much as users of other platforms. I do find that users of Apple products are more likely to blame themselves than the system. However, each system has its areas of ease and difficulty.
iPads have a simple grid of icons on the screen, so it is always clear where to find apps. Android have an app drawer, so apps are sometimes in two places.
Android allows you to put widgets on the screen which often display all the information you need without having to open the app. On iPads, you always have to open an app to see what it shows.
Android has a universal back button and an app switch button. iPads only have the one home button.
The latest iPads with iOS 9 allow you to see two apps side by side.
All iPads look exactly the same when you start them. Different Android tablets are often slightly modified by the manufacturer. Not enough to make it a problem for most users but your new tablet may look a bit different from the old one.
All iPads also tend to be upgraded to the latest version of iOS (now 9). Many cheap or older Android tablets only offer upgrades to one or two of the next versions of the operating system (now 6). This can present some issues but in the last year, we were using tablets running Android 4.2, 4.4 and 5.1 and did not run into any issues because of that.
Android’s deep integration with Google services such as Google drive makes it a bit easier to use across many devices. On the other hand, if all of your devices are from Apple, you may benefit from those on iPads.
This is a controversial subject because both platforms use very different architectures which have their technical advantages and disadvantages. But the short message is that both platforms are equally safe for mainstream users and much safer than full PCs.
There are no dangerous viruses you have to worry about, if you download from the App Store on iPad or the Play Store on Android. Even if a bad app sneaks in, it is quickly discovered and removed from your tablet.
Android has a setting to allow you to install custom apps (called sideloading). This does not automatically open it to attack. But you have to exercise the same caution when sideloading apps as you do when installing software on the PC.
Here, there’s no question. Android tablets are cheaper. Even the expensive ones are cheaper. Apple likes to promote them as premium devices, and they certainly are of very high quality. But in real life, you may be better off buying a £50 tablet for your young child, don’t worry about them breaking it and buying another (better) one a year or two later.
Of course, you can also buy a premium Android tablet for less than an iPad. I listen to the popular podcast on Apple products called Macbreak Weekly and two of the presenters use premium Android phones because of the added flexibility.
Because of its open nature, Android simply gives you more options. Well over a dozen manufacturers make Android tablets while only Apple makes iPads. You can choose from 2 sizes of iPads (and the iPad Pro) while any size is available with Android.
You also have more flexibility in how you set up your system. You can choose different skins, launchers, widgets. Your Android tablet can look exactly the way you want.
If you try a lot of apps, you will appreciate that you can get trial versions. I also like the fact that I can install apps from my computer – they will then just appear on the tablet.
Another useful feature of Android is user switching and you can also have multiple Google accounts on the same machine. Apple only lets you set up one ID per iPad.
The only area where you have more options with iPads is accessories. Accessory makers only have two form factors to focus on. While you can always choose from 2-3 or more cases for any given Android tablet, there are probably a hundred options for the iPad. You are also more likely to find decent iPad accessories in a grocery store than you are for your particular Android model.
The two platforms also have different advantages for school administrators. iPads are slightly easier to control centrally but Android tablets have better remote control and can be linked to easier to manage Google Apps for schools.
Apps is what makes the tablet useful. Without them, all you could do is browse the web. On iPads, you have the App Store, on Android tablets you have the Google Play Store or you can install the Amazon App Store.
Note: Only buy Android tablets that have the Google Play store. Some very cheap tablets may come without it and it will greatly limit their usefulness (as we will see next week in my review of the Amazon Kindle Fire).
In the past, iPads were the clear winner when it came to apps. Now, that is no longer true.
All the mainstream apps and games are now available on the iPad and Android. Sometimes, there is a bit of a lag and often companies release apps for the iPad first. But not always. For example, because it is much easier to deploy test apps, we recently chose Android to develop our games (blog post soon).
Even if a particular app is not available on one platform or the other, it is usually possible to find an equivalent one on the other platform as you can see in previous Tech Thursdays when I suggested apps.
The one area where iPads are the only choice is serious music production involving recording. This is because of the way sound is handled by Apple – Android involves tiny delay which hinders things like multi track recording. But this is only an edge case most people will not come across.
How about Windows 10 tablets?
As it happens, I am typing this on an 8 inch Windows 10 tablet. The DELL Venue 8 Pro. I have written previous blog posts using the Android tablet TESCO Hudl and for this kind of work, I find the Windows 10 experience slightly better.
Basically, you have a full computer with you in a tablet form factor. All you need is a cheap bluetooth keyboard and you can do anything you can do on a PC (if a bit more slowly).
However, the Windows 10 platform is let down by the lack of apps. Without the apps, it just does not work well as a tablet. But it is very close. Suspect that in a year’s time, it will be a serious recommendation. It can already be the right choice for some people now and I will have a full review soon.
Next week we will have a full review of the £50 Amazon Kindle Fire.
Word Document version of this post
Dominik Lukes - Education and Technology Specialist